It's All About the Writing
In early september, during the middle stages of production on this issue, I participated in a panel discussion at the fourth annual Slice Literary Writers’ Conference in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a terrific event, and it turned out to be a great panel, but to say that I paused over the title, “Art vs. Commerce: It’s Not All About the Writing,” would be an understatement. My thoughts started to congeal around all that it implied. While it’s true that, if one takes the long view, writing is only the first act in a series of many during the publishing process, I believe it is chief among them, and the decisions that follow should serve and support it. And that abbreviation, that vexing little vs.—the implied opposition between Art and Commerce—as if a writer must choose between one or the other! But I need not have worried: My fellow panelists, including agents Eric Simonoff and Richard Pine, were not about to declare that once the writing is finished (is it ever?) an author should simply surrender to the captains of commerce. Still, I did feel a responsibility to faithfully and accurately represent the clear-eyed poets and writers (and independent publishers) who are under no delusion that they’re on the fast track to financial exuberance. I believe that most of us write not for the money (“What money?” many will, and should, cry) but rather as part of a lifelong pursuit of creative expression. We write because we love writing; we can’t live without it. If we can get a book deal that includes some much-deserved stability, it’s a clear win, in a culture that doesn’t reward its literary artists as often as it should. But without that book deal, without that money, we will still write. And most of us—not all, but most of us—do not “write for the market” (whatever that might actually mean).
I’ve sat on my share of panels, but I got a little worked up while preparing for this one because, at the same time, I was finishing up the interviews for “Let’s Just Do This: Eleven Small-Press Authors and Their Publishing Partners” (page 56) and editing the other articles in our special section, including the Agents & Editors interview with Graywolf editor extraordinaire Jeff Shotts (80), as well as “The Language Is the Event” (46), Kevin Nance’s profile of Charles D’Ambrosio, whose new essay collection is published this month by indie stalwart Tin House Books. Read these articles and tell me it’s not all about the writing. Then get back to what’s really important: your writing.